Two high profile industry figures at the heart of the drive to find an effective bovine TB policy in England have spoken of their recent experience of coming under TB restriction.
Michael Seals, chairman of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, lost one animal as a TB reactor from his small South Devon beef herd, located in Derbyshire, in a test earlier this month.
Minette Batters, the NFU’s deputy president and one of its most prominent campaigners on bTB, has also recently found her farm under TB restriction.
Mr Seals said it was only a matter of time before his herd, now down to just 10 beef animals after a decision to focus on other elements of the business, such as horses, was hit.
“We have been surrounded by the disease for well over a decade so I guess there was a degree of fatalism about it, and eventually we succumbed,” he said.
He said there was ’no epidemiological guarantee’ of what caused the positive test but suggested the evidence pointed to wildlife infection.
“All I can say is we have not brought in any animal for three-and-a-half years. We have no nose-to-nose to contact we are aware of as we have double-fencing," he said.
“The forage is wrapped in plastic from an outlying piece of land where there is no wildlife issue. Which leads to the possibility that it is outside contact of some description. We know we have an active wildlife population in the local area and on the farm.”
Mr Seals said his experience, shared by thousands of others around the country, highlighted the need to pursue Defra’s TB strategy, which his board helped shape, in full.
He said his own situation could potentially have been prevented by badger vaccination or a cull, although his area is likely to down the list for the latter as it not a dense cattle area.
With his AHWBE hat on, he said: “The message to politicians is to wait for the evidence and follow the strategy. If disease is spreading in wildlife the strategy is quite clear – all action should be taken in the approved way, including vaccination and culling.”
For Mrs Batters, the situation is more serious as long-term movement restrictions would seriously compromise her business’s ability to function a suckler producer.
In her latest TB test, just over a week ago, her 100-cow Wiltshire suckler beef herd came up with its first inconclusive reactor, a Simmental cow calf at foot, triggering restrictions on the business, at least until the mandatory 60 day test, due in May.
“It does bring it home to you. We produce top end stores and we really don’t want to get involved in finishing animals. It would be the beginning of the end for our business. The costs don’t stack up. We are not arable producers so we are not going to grow enough corn to finish animals,” Mr Batters said.
She said the cow that gave the IR result had been in a field where a new badger sett had been found.
“It was a new sett was right in middle of field and we have found two dead badgers in the hedge. The cow had calved inside but had been in field with the others. You just don’t know what it is for sure but it is a huge concern.
“We now have to wait until the 60-day test before we know the situation and can decide what to do.”
Since she took on the role of NFU deputy president, Mrs Batters has been vocal in urging the current Government, and Labour if it leads the next Government, to pursue the TB strategy in full.
She was heavily critical of Labour’s pledge to abandon the pilot culls half way through if the Party wins the May election.
“For farmers, it is not just the loss of animals, it’s about the restrictions and all the costs that are coming toward us. It has been allowed to get so rampant because of all the politics for so many years – farmers are very, very angry with the situation.”